Behind the Great Wall, China's Treasures Abound

Posted March 26, 2007 2:22 p.m. EDT

Beijing is the capital of China, and home to many of China’s greatest achievements. The secluded and guarded Forbidden City housed former emperors of China from 1420 to 1911 and was the exclusive residence and office for all 24 Ming and Qing emperors. For almost 500 years, common people were forbidden to enter this area.

Surrounded by a 170-foot wide palace moat and 32-foot high city wall, the Forbidden City was built along a north-to-south axis, measuring 2,460 feet east-to-west and 3,149 feet north-to-south. With over 60 buildings and 9,999 “rooms,” it is just one room shy of the 10,000 rooms Chinese tradition says are contained in heaven’s palace.

In the area outside Beijing is the Great Wall of China, one of the world’s great architectural structures, a formidable 2,000-mile-long construction. This functional landmark was originally built to keep the nomadic Xiongnu away from farming villages on the Chinese border.

The wall was built by three main dynasties, the Qin, the Han and the Ming, each exhibiting different building styles.

The first section of the wall started in 221 B.C., by the Qin Dynasty and emperor Qin Shi Huang, reputed to be a cruel and tyrannical emperor who sent scholars and thinkers of the time to work on the wall, which was constructed with loose stone.

The Han dynasty rose to power in 209 B.C, and work on the wall resumed, meandering through the Gobi Desert. Due to the lack of building materials, Chinese engineers laid down reeds and twigs, a layer of gravel and water was applied, tamped down and allowed to dry. Due to the dry conditions of the desert and wall fortification, some portions still stand today.

The final and most ornate section of the wall was built by the Ming Dynasty and is the section most people are familiar with. They melded their methods with those of the previous builders, with the center of the wall tamped earth surrounded by a shell of bricks. The super strong wall was built across some of China’s dangerous terrain.

Yangtze River

Twice the length of the wall is the Yangtze River, the third longest in the world. It measures almost 4,000 miles long and is called Chang Jiang by the Chinese.

A major transportation artery for China, it connects the interior to the coast, and is the unofficial dividing point between north and south China. River traffic includes commercial transporting, as well as manufactured goods and passengers. It is the sole habitat for the critically endangered Chinese River Dolphin and the Chinese paddlefish.

With the influx of tourists, the scenic Three Gorges has become very popular, especially with the knowledge their beauty will soon be altered forever by a massive dam project due to be finished in 2009. The dam will provide flood control to the bordering towns, alleviating a centuries-old flooding problem along the river and provide farmers irrigation, electricity and water transport.


In the 1970s, near modern-day Xian, Chinese peasant farmers were digging a well and discovered the head of a terra cotta soldier, a clue that led to the discovery of the tomb of China’s first emperor, Yingzheng of the Qin Dynasty.

Born in 260 B.C., during the time in Chinese history known as the Warring States, when regional powers fought one another for supremacy, a youthful Yingzheng and his father, the king of Qin, were held political hostages in an enemy state. At the age of 13, Yingzheng assumed the Qin throne and was in constant battle with rival kingdoms.

By 211 B.C., Qin had conquered all the enemy states, taking firm control of China and proudly declaring himself the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty.

While in power, the First Emperor adopted many measures to consolidate the political diversity of China. He contributed significantly to the survival of China as one unified country and civilization.

But, of course, the First Emperor also took good care of himself. He lived a life of grandeur and luxury, and like many other powerful leaders, aspired to have it continue into the other world. It was of such desire that he ordered the construction of the massive tomb.

Among other things, the tomb contained thousands of terra cotta soldiers, horses and chariots. The tomb is only partially excavated, but the design of the massive underground tomb mirrored the urban plan of Qin’s capital, Xianyang. The life-size figures are not only masterpieces of realism, but of great historical interest.